• Harriot Grinnell-Moore

Do you know how smart I am in English?

Street Art in Montmartre - "We all have a hidden talent, even if we ignore it."

There's a scene in Modern Family when Gloria yells "Do you even know how smart I am in Spanish?" and honestly, right now I've never seen something more relatable. It is so tiring to be with a group of friends, having to be constantly aware and translating, thinking up your response to whether the protests against Macron are justified, to realise the conversation has already moved on and so you begin to get your next response ready, hopefully in time to actually use it. Even now, when I can keep up with the speed of conversations, I still get thrown off guard with a question like "How do you define morality?" or "Do you believe in God? Why?" which I can answer fully and in-depth in English (thanks A -Level philosophy) but in French it takes me several tries, a few pauses to find the right words, and still my response feels inadequate. This is when I want to yell about how intelligent I am in English!

Even when I speak perfect French my accent can give me away on certain words (one of which being oui, which is not helpful). I was grabbing a very very early taxi to Gare du Nord a few weeks ago, I'd been chatting with the driver in French for about 5 minutes, and I kid you not the moment I said "oui" he said "Oh, you're not French?" After I told him no, I'm not, but I live here, the conversation came to a halt. I was in an uber pool, so we picked up a French couple on the way, and as we got to Gare du Nord I tried to tell him he'd turned the wrong way, as I said this he turned to the French girl and asked if she spoke English and could explain something to me. Never mind the fact that I'd conversed fluently with him before, and he knew I could speak French! I never found out what he wanted to explain to me as I told him I could speak French, he'd missed the turning, and I'd get out here. A lot of my friends out here who speak English always moan about the fact that they'll be speaking French to someone who will turn around and reply in English, which is so frustrating! How can we improve, when our opportunities to improve are taken away from us? Saying that, whenever I ask a French person to please talk to me in French and correct me, they are more than happy to, and I usually end up knowing a ton of new vocabulary from it too!

My self-consciousness at how not perfect my French is, can mean that I let myself feel inadequate in situations that I really shouldn't. For example, when I'm explaining something to the kids and they tell me that they don't understand it, or question a word I've used, I get so embarrassed and I used to say oh "c'est pas important" and move on. However, most of the time it isn't that I've said a word badly or used a wrong word, but that they're only kids and they haven't learnt that word themselves yet. I shouldn't be embarrassed at asking them if I've made a mistake or asking for a word I don't know in French. It shows them that it's okay to not know it all and to make mistakes, everyone does.

I tell the kids all the time, that the way I see it the biggest barrier to learning a language is confidence, and I think this is why I didn't succeed in languages at school, because I didn't believe in my abilities. Without that confidence, you are too afraid to practice in fear of making mistakes, and you cannot improve without making mistakes! My old French teacher, for example, used to do things such as put your homework up on the board in front of the entire class and point out every mistake, which whilst I understand the intention (I think, she thought it would make us stop being lazy and actually check our work), it filled me with such dread for each French lesson and I participated less and progressed less as a result!

Out of the three children I teach, Marie and Achille are the ones who have the 'head' for languages, Marie is already tri-lingual and for Achille everything seems to 'click' in English, he puts things together and remembers words effortlessly. However, César is the one who has the confidence and the push to try out new phrases, and ask for things in English, despite making mistakes, which makes him so much stronger in English.

So, even if you are confronted by the 700th French person that day who keeps replying to you in English, or you've used bon where you should of used bien or bien where you should've used bon or, well whatever, just remember that every mistake you make, every time you want to scream how clever you are in English, is just another step to becoming fluent (maybe).

#Language #SecondLanguage #French

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Contact me: helgm1@gmail.com | The Netherlands

© 2017 by Harriot E.L. Grinnell-Moore

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